Institutional channelling: How defines Germany political participation opportunities for immigrants?

Term Paper, 2009

15 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Concepts and Definitions

3. Conventional Participation Opportunities

4. Non-conventional Participation Opportunities

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

The importance of immigrants’ active participation in German society is undoubtedly emphasized and supported by governmental authorities. However, the by the state and political parties produced discourse on immigrants’ participation is predominantly concerned with civic mobilisation and the involvement in organisations initiated by immigrants themselves. This paper addressing the less debated topic of immigrants’ political participation acts therefore as a counterbalance to these discussions.

In research special attention has been dedicated to the correlation between immigrants’ participation and integration. The widespread claim that ethnic and religious immigrant associations trigger segregation and hinder integration into German society has been refuted by recent studies affirming the incorporation of active immigrants (e.g. Thränhardt 1999). As immigrants’ participation has been proofed to be an important means to promote immigrant integration it deserves further academic attention. It appeals to me to observe and research immigrants as active, contributing individuals to our society. This perspectival manner of immigrants’ representation endeavours to distract attention from the mainly cultural and problematic discourse that exists concerning the issue of migration in Germany.

With the theoretical insights of Patrick Ireland among others the immigrants’ mobilisation research field has been expanded to the influence of the institutional setting provided by the German state granting political participation opportunities to immigrants. This paper will especially answer the questions how the institutions and practices offered by the German government influences the participation of immigrants in the political sphere. The first chapter deals with definitions and theoretical concepts aiming to clarify how specific expressions will be used in this paper. The third and the fourth chapter will then reveal what political participation opportunities are provided by the government in terms of state and non-state institutions and practices.

2. Concepts and Definitions

A widely accepted definition from Max Kaase where political participation is described as the “behaviour of citizens which they voluntarily undertake alone or with others in order to influence political decisions”[1] is applied here (Kaase 2003, 495). According to this definition political participation does not only imply the participation at institutions of political interest aggregation, i.e. voter participation, membership in political relevant organisations like parties, trade unions, and committees, but also applies to the involvement in formal and informal interest groups, such as citizens’ initiatives, and self organisations of immigrants. Similar to Kaase Martiniello identifies two different types of political participation according to their identification as a state or non-state body: conventional and non-conventional forms. While the former include participations types like voting, the latter points to political activities, such as protests, demonstrations, sit-ins, hunger strikes, boycotts. (see Martiniello 2007, 84).

As this paper aims to shed light on the institutional structures provided to immigrants to participate in the political sphere its focus lies on the state as the power to set the legal framework. The state’s role and function in assigning rights and obligations to its citizens is underlined in Foucault’s concept of governmentality. Foucault referred to governmentality as the ‘art of governing’, embracing the idea of a ‘government’ that is not restricted to state politics but can employ various control techniques. According to that governmentality incorporates governing techniques and practices used by the state to exercise power over its subjects as well as control this population and produce them to fulfil its government policies, that is to say make them governable (see Foucault, 1979). In other words, governmentality is a complex with institutions, procedures, calculations, and tactics with knowledge of the political economy and with the technical means of apparatuses of security geared at its population (see Foucault 2000, 219).

With his concept Foucault develops a new understanding of power in modern societies that are characterized by a triangular power complex: sovereignty – discipline – governmentality. While sovereignty describes the state’s function to exercise authority over its territory and subjects, with the term discipline Foucault introduces a new social awareness of power relations, i.e. managing large populations through disciplinary institutions, such as schools, armies, factories, and hospitals. In Foucault’s terms power can be also produced in forms of knowledge that becomes apparent in public discourses and guides the conduct of the populations. In times of globalization such a discourse can be observed in the perception of the rise of migration levels as a threat to the survival of the nation state model. The states’ legitimacy crisis and the exposure to the states’ integrity indicated already by Machiavelli brought Foucault to the conclusion that the process of governmentalization can be seen as the state’s struggle to survive (see Foucault 2000, 219). General tactics of governmentality can be perceived in attempts to manage diversity such as citizenship and multiculturalism policies. Some of these strategies applied by the German state to govern and control its citizens will be further depicted in this paper.

In literature on immigrants’ political participation the role of political institutions has been increasingly become the centre of attention. Looking from a “neo-institutionalist” perspective such approaches focus on the influence of institutions on the preference and strategies formation of political actors and distance themselves from ethnicity and race theories which emphasize the ethnic identity as the basis for political mobilisation along cultural, religious, and racial lines (see Koopmans/Statham 2000, 29f.). The works of academics as Cornelius, Martin, and Hollifield 1994; Freeman 1992, 1995; Ireland 1994; Joppke 1997, 1998; Guiraudon 1998 significantly shifted the research interest away from the socio-economic and cultural determinism inherent in earlier works. These theories place the political field of migration like any other political issue in the centre of the liberal democracy, where individual rights are negotiated between groups, persons, and the state in the arena of domestic politics (see Koopmans/Statham 2000, 29). Taking into account the considerations on governmentality and the influence of the state to apply power over its citizens this paper focuses on these so called political opportunity structure theories which outline the political participation possibilities present at a given time in a particular society. According to Ireland’s ‘institutional channelling theory’ institutions, such as political parties, trade unions, parliament, religious organisations, judicial bodies and humanitarian non-profit organisations need to be considered institutional gatekeepers determining and controlling the immigrants’ access to channels of political influence. Depending on the approach of the ‘institutional forces’ towards immigrant integration policies, such as citizenship laws, and the actions of institutional gatekeepers immigrants’ mobilisation is shaped in a inclusionary or rather exclusionary way. For this reason political opportunities are framed by the state’s definition of how to govern its citizens and immigrants, such as the granting of voting rights to immigrants, naturalization possibilities, recognition of assembly and association rights, and the establishment of institutions granting immigrants representation (see Martiniello 2007, 88). Thus, according to Ireland institutions as well as policies and practices in the receiving state also have an impact on shaping immigrants organisation along ethnic lines (see Ireland 2000, 236f.).

Apart from such opportunities given within the national political framework it indeed depends on the person to take advantage of them. Depending on their political ideas and values, their status in the host country being of temporary or permanent nature, the feeling of belonging to the host country or the sending state, their social capital and existing networks, their knowledge of the political system and institutions in the receiving state, their socio-economic, educational, background, or their gender and age, an immigrant’s willingness to seize political opportunities might differ (see Martiniello 2007, 88).

In accordance with Martiniello’s differentiation between conventional and non-conventional participation venues the next chapters examine the opportunities granted to immigrants in these two fields.


[1] In the text a translated version of the quote is used. Original quote: „Verhaltensweisen von Bürgern, die sie alleine oder mit anderen freiwillig mit dem Ziel unternehmen, Einfluss auf politische Entscheidungen zu nehmen“

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Institutional channelling: How defines Germany political participation opportunities for immigrants?
Bilgi University İstanbul  (European Studies)
Migration and Europe
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ISBN (Book)
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Institutional, Germany
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Manuela Paul (Author), 2009, Institutional channelling: How defines Germany political participation opportunities for immigrants?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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